Tuesday, September 30, 2014

7 Questions with Sheila Arnold, Storyteller and Teaching Artist

Sheila Arnold Jones currently resides in Hampton, VA.   She is a Professional Storyteller, Historic  Character Interpreter and Teaching Artist.   Through her company, History’s Alive!, Sheila has given at schools, churches, professional organizations and museums around the US .   

     Sheila portrays ten different women in history ranging from the 1600's to the 1970's,including, Oney Judge, Madame CJ Walker and Daisy Bates.   She  also presents Professional Development sessions, Storytelling Programs and Character Presentations at educational conferences, including Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute, Valley Forge Teacher Institute, Mt. Vernon Teacher Institute, and Social Studies and Reading Association Conferences in New York, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.   The  National Council of Social Studies and many Teaching American History Grant programs around the country have had Sheila present and perform on a variety of topics.   Finally, Sheila is called upon to be a Featured Teller at Storytelling Festivals around the country, including, but not limited to,  the National Storytelling Festival (Jonesborough, TN), Storytelling in the Carolinas (Laurinburg, NC) and Moonshell Storytelling Festival (Omaha, NE). Previously, Sheila worked at Colonial Williamsburg Foundation as a Coordinator with the Teacher Institute, in Public Relations and Event Management , and as a Storyteller and Theatrical Interpreter.  Also, she was a Social Worker with aggressive adolescents having emotional problems, a Hampton City Middle School  Substitute Teacher, Manager with Information Technology Systems (ITS) and a Mary Kay, Inc. Independent Senior Beauty Consultant.   
For more information about Sheila Arnold Jones, or to schedule a presentation or professional development, you can go to www.mssheila.org, or email her at sheilaarnold39@aol.com or call her at 7 57-725-1398.


 1.         How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

     I became hooked on history when I was a little girl, because my father loved history.  Both of my parents read many, many books, often of an historical nature, and I followed suit in developing that same love of reading and learning.

 2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

     My personal family history has been actively shared by mother and my aunts and the collecting of notes, letters and documents from family members is consistently done.  Also, in my junior year of high school, I was really impacted by "The Black Book", which showed photos, patent engravings, history notes.  When I read this book, it made me angry that I hadn't learned alot about black history in my predominantly white school (we only had 13 AFrican American students out of 800).  I took that anger and the book to my Social Studies Teacher, Mrs. Elliott, and found out that she had been taking Black Studies courses during the summer, but unsure of how to incorporate in the class.  My anger and true desire to learn, gave her an opening, and she changed the curriculum to be able to teach Black History as well.  She was my favorite high school teacher and made me love history more.  She also changed our class and we all became more aware of cultural history.

  3.         How is history a part of your professional life/career?

     So history is now a part of my regular every day life.  I am an Historic Character Presenter, presenting ten different women in history from the 1600's to the 19 70's.  I also present professional Development for Educators with a focus on Teaching African American History to Culturally Diverse Audiences, and using Storytelling in Teaching History.  I also am a historian, or at least, an active history learner.  I have to do research constantly on the women I portray and the time periods they live in.  I am involved in History Education groups on LinkedIn and interact often with other Character Presenter.  Proof:  My most recently read "pleasure" book was "Since Yesterday:  The 1930's in America" by Frederick Lewis Allen; a fantastic read, which sounded a lot like today.  

 4.         Why is studying/knowing history important? 

     Studying/Knowing history is important because when we know history we can see the patterns and maybe see the place to change the pattern.  I find it stunning when people look at a "developing" country and wonder why they aren't where "we" are, thinking we have always been where we are now.  Also, history teaches us to appreciate others outside of ourselves.  When done correctly, it encourages people to be more tolerant and even appreciative of other cultures.  

5.         What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

     My favorite period of history to learn about is the Civil Rights period.  I have always thought I could/would be one of the marchers in the South.  I love how people became involved and they made a change, they made a difference.  This period led to so many other "rights" being fought for.  And even more importantly, people of different races, religious beliefs came together and worked together; kind of my hope for utopia.


6.         What is the process through which you create your characters and presentations?

  First, I decide on which person (or time period) I want to portray or represent.  Then I go to resources, starting with youth and children's books.  I start there because I am presenting mostly to youth and children, because the books take lots of information and compact it, because they have easy timeline and they have photos.  Oh, and they aren't long books.  Based on those books (usually 2 or 3), I then write down the things that I found most interesting and most important.  Next, I make a copy of the timeline in one of the books, and I compare that personal timeline to a much broader timeline to find out what else is going on at that time.  This helps me to know what else I am going to have to know about in the person's time, and what I won't know.  

   Then I write an outline from my memory of what I've read.  These are usually the things I think are more important, have a lesson and just are interesting.  Finally, I start putting together the costume and collecting any props.  

    I wish I could say there was some final thing I do, but after I have the outline I practice what I will say, how I will say, and tighten it up.  Then I practice more, and I continue to research.  Then I practice more and continue to do research. 

7.         Why is storytelling still important in the 21st century?

     At a time in history where media and social networking is so prevalent, storytelling is more relevant than ever.  The need for face to face, ear to ear communication is so much more necessary to fulfill the need to have connection and purpose.  I perform in front of audiences, particularly youth, who are desperate for people to "talk" to them and engage.  People need to share, just see the growth in Massmouth and Story Slams on campuses.  

    Storytelling is also the best way to increase literacy in our youth.  It also enhances critical thinking and creativity in people.  It should be a an active part of STEM; making it STEAM.  (A = ARTS).  Plus, it's fun and entertaining, educational and inspirational, and who couldn't use a great story in their day?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

7 Questions with Robert Wilton, Author

Robert Wilton is a writer and diplomat. His latest historical novel, The Spider of Sarajevo ('a beautifully written, elegant spy thriller', The Times), is newly available through Amazon.com. Set exactly one hundred years ago, at the outbreak of World War One, it draws on documents from the archive of a mysterious organization in the shadows of the British Government, and on the author's own experience in the Balkans. He was advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo in the years leading to the country's independence, and has more recently been running an international mission in Albania. He is also co-founder of The Ideas Partnership, a grass-roots charity working in education, the environment and cultural heritage. There's more at www.robertwilton.com, and you can follow @ComptrollerGen. He divides his time between the Balkans and Cornwall, England.

1.         How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?

As early as I can remember. There was a legendary series of children's books in England called the Ladybird Books, and in them I could read about our Kings and Queens, with a beautiful picture on every page. And I remember finding a set of postcards in a drawer at home - I think my parents had got them free with something - each a beautiful painting of one of Britain's heroes with some text on the back; I was fascinated by those faces, and read their stories over and over.

2.         What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

It's always been my way into anything. My Dad and I researched our family history - this was back in those ancient days before the internet, when you had to go to an institution in London to get copies of birth, marriage and death certificates, with the scratchy signatures of my forefathers (or in some cases just an 'x' because they couldn't write their names). When we were done with that we researched who'd lived in our house. Any time I go somewhere new I have to know its history: it's how I understand the world, how I see it. I studied history all through school - I got lucky with some great teachers; even outside fiction, history is story-telling - and then University. When I was writing short stories, my themes kept coming back to history and its resonances: a soldier returning to the French village where he hid from the Nazis and fell in love; a decades-old mystery solved when a group of veterans returns to their battlefield.


3.         How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?

One of the many over-clever sayings about the Balkans is that they've produced more history than they can consume. The people of the region think and talk too much about their history - or, in fact, usually about a nationalistic, mythological version of it. But if history doesn't excuse the crimes and idiocies of the present, it can explain where they came from. Too often the international community has blundered into interventions without really understanding what they're getting into. If I want to help people in south-eastern Europe escape the toxic legacies of their history, I must first understand them, otherwise there's no chance of finding the right road to change. It's also a matter of respect to a people.


4.         Why is studying/knowing history important?

Mark Twain said that history rhymes; and he was a wise fellow. It's not only about the direct links - understanding how the United States of America, or indeed Kosovo, came to be independent and what that means for today; understanding why there's DNA from Roman soldiers in the population of a village in the north of England, or why there are Scottish and Irish family names across a chunk of the mid-western US. It's also about Mark Twain's rhymes - the patterns of history, the echoes. Exploring history - any history - taking apart the mechanism and trying to work out what makes it tick, gives you ideas and approaches you might apply in a completely different historical context. The brilliant novelist of Rome, M.C.Scott, says that when she wanted to try to understand what it was like to be a Roman legionary she read the memoirs of soldiers from World War Two. I once listened to  a guy lecturing about the unique and unprecedented phenomenon of Al-Qaeda, as a non-hierarchical movement of belief flourishing thanks to the internet revolution in communications technology. And I thought of Britain in the mid-17th Century, and the spread of diverse, mainly Protestant strands of belief thanks to the revolutionary power of printing and increasing literacy. History also teaches you skills of thought, of analysis, in a more general way. I approach any problem - a challenge at work, maybe; probably even a faulty light switch - as I approach a question of history, trying to see the context, trying to see how the factors come together. P.s. History is great stories; and stories are how we as humans make sense of our existence.


5.         What makes a great historical novel?

A feeling for history, and a feeling for the individuals caught up in it. Preferably a great battle, a great love and a great death; ideally, the constant sense that you don't know where the history ends and the fiction begins. I don't know if Gone With The Wind is great history or great literature, but it's a great historical novel because it captures the scale of a vast war and keeps your attention through two people you care about. For most English people, Gone With The Wind is that war. Tolstoy - the grand-daddy - portrays the epic sweep of what at the time seemed like the greatest war there had been, and gives you an army of characters to care about. A great historical novel doesn't have to be big in size or focus: Daphne Du Maurier's The King's General is a little gem. And now there's the astonishing, prize-winning Hilary Mantel, who writes history that you can smell.


6.         Both your British government career and your writing career have focused on the Balkans.  Why the Balkans?

Chance. Bismarck said (see over-clever sayings, above) that the Balkans weren't worth the bones of a single Pomeranian Grenadier; I don't know if they're worth the career of a single Englishman. In the British Ministry of Defence I started working on the region in 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign against the Belgrade regime and its oppression of the people of Kosovo. Each time I was thinking of moving on, someone would offer me something to do with the region which used my growing experience. When I was looking to work abroad in 2006 - go anywhere, do anything, maybe volunteer - I got a call saying that the new Prime Minister of Kosovo wanted a British Advisor, and it looked like me. Coming from a pretty traditional - I guess pretty sheltered - background, suddenly immersing myself in a new culture - particularly one that was so scarred by so much suffering - blew my mind. The Spider of Sarajevo is dedicated to the Albanians, because of their extraordinary hospitality - to this guest, like so many before him. Helping to run a charity and, separately, an international human rights and democracy mission, I've had the great good fortune to find in the Balkans a place where I can try to help - in a small way to make a positive difference. And once in the Balkans, of course, I got interested in the history. In a place where widespread literacy and education came late, I learned the power of stories being told around the fire and down the generations. And I was inspired by the landscape, and by the traditions and spirit of the people, and that's what gives The Spider of Sarajevo its dramatic opening scene, the subplot of unstoppable revenge that runs through the novel, and of course the climax in Sarajevo.


7.         Tell us about your latest novel, The Spider of Sarajevo.

I've been really excited by the response to its topicality. It's set in the weeks around the outbreak of World War One, and so it's been published exactly one hundred years after the events it illuminates. There's so much interest at the moment in how and why the world went to war in that mad summer of 1914, and so I think the intrigue and adventure in The Spider of Sarajevo has extra appeal. The mysteries it explores - what was going on in the shadows in those desperate weeks - have a particular resonance. It's a picture of what Europe was like at that extraordinary moment, and of course it's a novel of espionage and action as well. With war imminent, an anonymous official of the British Government took a spectacular gamble with the future of British intelligence - which at that time was in its infancy. As the documents used in the novel reveal, he sent four young agents out into Europe - and even they didn't know exactly what their mission was. Their adventures, and what happened to them in the end, are what drives the novel - and everything converged on Sarajevo and the spark that ignited a world war.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

7 Questions With Mark McDonald, CEO of the Georgia Trust

(Mark C. McDonald has served as President and CEO of The Georgia Trust since June 2008.  Mr.   
McDonald has over 25 years of professional involvement in historic preservation and a strong business background. He has served as the executive director for three preservation organizations in the Southeast, including the Historic Salisbury Foundation in North Carolina from 1986-1990, the Mobile Historic Development Commission in Mobile, Alabama from 1990-1998 and the Historic Savannah Foundation from 1998-2008.)

1. How and/or when did you get you hooked on history?
I developed a love for history in elementary school reading those little orange biographies of famous Americans. I think I read virtually every one in the series.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?
History is always at the center of my life and value system. I live in historic houses and neighborhoods, plan my vacations around historic cities and sites and choose to do business with restaurants, hotels, merchants, etc who are located in historic buildings.

3. How is/How was history a part of your professional life/career?
I left the practice of law in 1986 to pursue a career in historic preservation. I have rarely regretted it.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?
It provides us with continuity in our culture and civilization and keeps us connected to people from the past and future.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?
Renaissance Italy and 19th century America. Both periods represent times of cultural awakening and definition.

6. What is the Georgia trust and what is its mission?
The Mission of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is to work for the preservation and revitalization of Georgia's diverse historic resources and advocate their appreciation, protection and use.

The Vision of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is for Georgians to understand and appreciate the irreplaceable value of historic buildings and places and their relevance to modern life. We envision Georgians who promote careful stewardship and active use of these diverse resources and recognize the economic and cultural benefits of preservation. We envision communities where new development complements and reinforces thriving downtowns and historic neighborhoods, contributing to a healthy and enriched humane environment.

7. How can Georgians preserve their past and why is it important ?
Join the Georgia Trust! Go to www.georgiatrust.org